The United States law is composed of many levels of forms of law. “Of all these forms of law, the most significant one is the Unites States Constitution and the federal government of the United States “(Hess, 2011, p. 57). The constitutional law and the federal law are most supreme. Federal law constitutes of criminal law. However, federal law is considered inferior as compared to the constitutional or state law, and hence, the state law may have more impact.
Sources of criminal law include common law, criminal statutes, and model penal code. Common law is where past judgments are used. Common law is mostly used when the particular case has got certain aspects not catered for in the constitution. As for the criminal statutes, this is what is included in the constitution. Statutory law has replaced the use of common law. However, the statutes have a placing for reception statutes, to allow for the use of common law when the need arises. The statutes classify crimes as either being felony or misdemeanor.
Felony and misdemeanor can further be classified according to the degree of intent. Felony is punishable by a death sentence or life imprisonment while misdemeanor is punishable by a fine, usually a monetary one, or confinement in a local jail. The model penal code, enacted by the American Law Institute, is mostly referred to by some courts, to help them interpret the non-code criminal statutes. However, the use of the model penal code differs in each of the states.
Currently, the Criminal Law System, which is the whole criminal process, protects certain rights of the criminal, until they are proven guilty of the crime they are being accused of. Players in this process include police officers, the accused, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, witnesses, and probation and correction officers. “Each of them has a role to play, so as to ensure justice is executed and the accused get an opportunity to defend themselves”(Davenport, 2011, p. 322).
Before getting to the current state of criminal law, several amendments have been made. The changes were made necessary because in past hearings, a lot of factors, especially those affecting the accused, were compromised. In most of the cases, certain rights if the accused such as a right to an attorney were disregarded. This deprived them the right to legal defense. Several other changes have also been made to the different levels of the constitution, so as to allow for the placing of various changes in the criminal law, as well as to make criminal law more effective.
When interpreting criminal law, an understanding of legal rule must first be established. “There are various kinds of interpretation; authentic interpretation, doctrinal interpretation, judicial interpretation, and technological interpretation” (Whittington, 1999, p. 123). Over the years, several changes have been made in the ways in which criminal laws are interpreted. More changes are still underway. They include Bill C-10. The bill was meant to increase penalties for crimes executed using firearms. Another act is Bill C-18 which was introduced to amend certain aspects of the criminal law, DNA identification, and the National Defense Act.
Results of the interpretation of criminal law can either be declarative, constraints, extensive, or progressive. According to Whittington (1999, p. 242), “each of these results is highly influenced by the society and how the society perceives the whole criminal system”.
Criminal law has over the years moved further away from the common law. This has led to the integration of efforts from judges and other legal theorists, as they try to bring out an element of intent in the existing criminal law. The efforts have not bore much fruit since the intent of the criminal law leans more on the individual or the case in question.
Hess M. Karen, & Orthmann Hess Christine. (2011). Introduction to Law Enforcement and
Criminal Justice. New York: Delmar Cengage Learning.
Davenport U. Anniken. (2011). Basic Criminal Law: The Constitution, Procedure, and Crimes
(3rd Edition). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.p512
Whittington E. Keith. (1999). Constitutional Interpretation. Kansas: University Press of Kansas